Maoist ‘child soldiers’ on warpath again

August 8th, 2011 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 8 (IANS) Anger, frustration and grief simmered among the former “child soldiers” of Nepal’s ruling Maoist party Monday as police arrested over 40 of them, including young women, on the orders of their own leaders for seeking to draw the government’s attention to their plight.

A little over 4,000 combatants of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who took part in the 10-year “People’s War” waged by the party from 1996, say they feel exploited and abandoned even though the Maoists now dominate the coalition government.

After the former guerrillas signed a peace agreement in 2006, a UN agency scrutinised the PLA and declared 4008 combatants to have been recruited in violation of international norms.

While some were roped in by the guerrillas after signing the peace pact, most were recruited as minors.

Though they were “honourably” discharged from the PLA, there was no move by the government or the Maoists to address the issue of their future.

Alarmed at the vacuum, the UN sought to offer them training and a chance to start small businesses. But many of the child soldiers disdained the offer, after having been promised the sky by the Maoist leadership.

Now the discharged child soldiers are back on the warpath with a new campaign.

After a torchlight rally in the capital Sunday, on Monday, they staged a two-hour road blockade at four major intersections of the capital, triggering police retaliation.

Though police arrested over 40 protesters, their leader, 24-year-old Krishna Prasad, who was a section commander of the PLA’s 3rd Division in Chitwan, said the protests will continue.

On Friday, the child soldiers have announced a shutdown of Kathmandu valley, to be followed by an all-Nepal closure Aug 20.

Ironically, the home ministry that ordered the arrests is now led by Maoist deputy chief Narayan Kaji Shrestha.

The “Supreme Commander” of the PLA, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who led the guerrillas from underground during the insurgency, left for Malaysia last night.

A defiant Prachanda said he was going to participate in the meeting of the Asia Pacific Cooperation and Exchange Foundation, a controversial Chinese organisation that claims to have signed a $3 billion deal with a UN agency to develop Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal.

Nepal’s government says it has no information about the grandiose plan and would not acknowledge it.

However, Prachanda, who is the joint chair of the foundation, has kept mum. His earlier trips abroad on the invitation of APEC are regarded as covert trips to meet Chinese leaders.

The Maoists’ ally, Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal, has threatened to resign Aug 13 if the stuck peace process does not move forward.

At this critical juncture, the Maoist chief’s Malaysia junket has been regarded with anger and derision.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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